Education

Black Home Schoolers Share Ideas at Group’s 4th Annual Symposium

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 09, 2005 4 min read
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National Black Home Educators Resource Association

• Founders: Joyce and Eric Burges

• Headquarters: Baker, La.

• Started in 2000

• Cites a network of 2,000 home schooling families

• www.nbhera.org

SOURCE: Education Week

When Joyce Burges first started home-schooling her children 15 years ago, she didn’t know any other African-Americans who were teaching their children at home. A white home-schooling mom from her church showed her the ropes.

After a few years, Ms. Burges and her husband, Eric Burges, felt they knew enough about the practice that they could mentor others, and they particularly wanted to reach out to African-Americans.

So in 2000, the couple from Baker, La., founded the National Black Home Educators Resource Association, or NBHERA. The organization uses a Web site, a newsletter, and an annual symposium to support black families who are home-schooling. The group held this year’s symposium, its fourth, July 29-30 here in Baton Rouge.

The Burgeses have persuaded a number of black families to educate their children at home. “Black people like familiarity,” said Ms. Burges, who home-schools the two youngest of the couple’s five children. “They were not familiar with home schooling, but they were familiar with me—being black.”

The annual meetings haven’t attracted large crowds. This year’s drew 60 adults and 56 children, mostly from the Baton Rouge area. But the Burgeses keep a database of about 2,000 home-schooling families nationwide, most of them African-American.

Ms. Burges contends that blacks need their own home-schooling association so they can exchange ideas about curriculum that covers the contributions of black people to American society. The kickoff event for the recent symposium included a dramatic depiction of two African-American heroes—the abolitionist and journalist Frederick Douglass and the educator George Washington Carver—given by Cedric Saunders, a home-schooling parent and storyteller from Kansas City, Kan.

The Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va., a national home-schooling advocacy organization, supported the NBHERA symposium with a grant of several thousand dollars.

Michael Smith, the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said a separate association for black home-schooling families seems to be necessary because “there are a lot of black home schoolers who won’t come to home-schooling events, because let’s face it, a lot of home-schooling families are white.”

He added, “Black home schoolers think there’s a different culture in the white home-schooling community—that we won’t understand them.”

Questions of Race

Attendees gave different reasons for why they home-school. For some, racial issues are an important factor.

“The system has failed our children,” contended Marcy Clark, of St. Paul, Minn. She and her husband, Gregory Clark, are teaching their three sons and one daughter at home.

Ms. Clark said she’s concerned that standardized-test scores of black children lag behind those of whites, a problem she attributes to educators’ low expectations for black students. She’s also worried about the overrepresentation of young black men in the nation’s prisons.

“Why would I put my three black sons in a room with teachers who have no clue about their culture?” Ms. Clark asked. “[The teachers] don’t care and don’t give significance to African culture, which is part of African-American culture.”

Ms. Clark has helped to start a resource group for black home-schooling families in St. Paul. The group, which is affiliated with the NBHERA, has 20 families participating.

By contrast, Bobbie and Daniel Williams, who home-school their five children in Jacksonville, N.C., said racial issues didn’t play a role in their decision to home-school.

Ms. Williams said she teaches her children at home so they won’t receive “negative influences” from other youngsters, and so she can spend more time with them than if they went off to school each day.

Her husband said he is opposed to some of the instructional decisions of public schools, such as his belief that they require students to read Harry Potter books and teach that homosexuality is acceptable.

The symposium’s keynote speaker, Gregg Harris, a white pastor and home-schooling parent from Gresham, Ore., gave two presentations—each more than an hour long—about what the Bible says about the roles of men and women in marriage and parenting.

Changing Minds

Most home-schooling parents interviewed here said they are churchgoers. But some said their religious beliefs didn’t play a big part in their decisions to teach their children at home. Many said that they believe they can educate their children better than public schools do, and that home schooling is more affordable than private schools.

Mr. Burges said many African-Americans resist schooling their children at home.

He and his wife first started teaching at home because they disagreed with how their local public school wanted to handle some difficulties their eldest son was having in school. But Mr. Burges soon discovered that his own parents were against home schooling.

“They said, ‘You guys are traitors,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘We fought to get into the schools, and you are getting out of them.’ ”

But in time, they’ve come around to support home schooling, he said. “If you talk to them now, they’d think it was their idea,” he joked.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2005 edition of Education Week as Black Home Schoolers Share Ideas At Group’s 4th Annual Symposium

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